Elmer Yoter

This article was written by Chris Rainey

What happens when a diminutive Pennsylvania Dutch youngster falls in love with America’s Pastime? In the case of Elmer Yoter, he becomes a semi-pro in 1920 as a teenager and stays in baseball past his 60th birthday. He appeared in only 36 major-league games, but managed in over 2,700 minor-league contests, often as player-manager, with at least 1,434 victories.1

Born June 26, 1900, Elmer Ellsworth Yoter was the third child of John Henry and Wilamina Florence (Stickel) Yoter. The family lived in Plainfield Township outside of Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Yoter attended school in the township and was a model student, winning numerous awards including for recitation and perfect attendance. The elder Yoter worked for the railroad and the family moved to McKees Rocks when he was made a foreman. Elmer attended high school in the town, but does not indicate on his Hall of Fame questionnaire whether he graduated. He was awarded a Lincoln Medal in 1916 for his academic work suggesting he was a serious student.

He gained attention as a shortstop with the Schoen Steel team in Pittsburgh in 1920. At 5-foot -6 and 155 pounds,2 Yoter’s best attributes were speed and agility. He was one of the fastest 100-yard racers in the Pittsburgh area. He had enough power from the right-hand side of the plate that a manager could bat him lead-off or in the middle of the lineup. In the fall he joined a group of Pittsburgh semi-pro players who traveled to the Panama Canal Zone to play over the winter. The Canal Zone League had begun in 1914, although baseball had been in the country long before that. Games were held a few days a week and players may also have had jobs. The season ran from November into April and Yoter played shortstop for the Balboa team. When he returned to his home he signed with the Philadelphia Athletics.

Philadelphia farmed him out to the Class B Norfolk Tars in the Virginia League under the guidance of veteran pitcher Jack Warhop. Yoter made an immediate impact with the Tars. When newspapers published the first statistics for the league he was batting .324 with 22 runs scored and 10 stolen bases.3

When the first half of the season closed, he led the league with 23 doubles. Norfolk won the second half title and faced Portsmouth in the playoffs where they went down, four games to one. Yoter closed out the campaign with a .306 average and was second in stolen bases with 29. He fell off the pace with only 32 doubles. His only real negative was his 65 errors at shortstop. The A’s were pleased with his performance and called him up to the majors. He debuted as a pinch-hitter on September 9 against Bob Shawkey and the Yankees in a 14-5 loss. The next day he pinch-hit against Carl Mays as the Yankees won in a 19-3 blowout.

Yoter returned to the Virginia League the next season, but with the Portsmouth Truckers. The nickname “Rabbit” followed him from Norfolk, but not to later leagues. Yoter played shortstop and batted second much of the season. He led the circuit with 13 home runs and 98 runs scored for the second-division Truckers. In 1922, Yoter took as his bride the former Agnes H. Burt. The couple would have one daughter, Lorraine. Agnes traveled with Yoter as much as possible during his career until a turn in her health made that impractical. They made their permanent home in the Pittsburgh area in McKeesport, Corapolis and finally Camp Hill. During the off season, Yoter was in business with his brother-in-law. The pair owned a string of meat markets in the Pittsburgh area and Elmer was a skilled butcher.4

Yoter returned to Portsmouth in 1923 and started the season as lead-off hitter and left fielder. In mid-July he was swapped to Petersburg for Charles “Chick” Palmer. The plan was for Yoter to replace Palmer at shortstop, but Yoter spent most of his time in the outfield. He again hit 13 home runs but that trailed Hack Wilson by 6.

In 1924 Yoter was with the Saginaw franchise in the Class B MINT League. In the early part of the season he played both right and left field. He was moved to third base in June and would play most of his remaining career at that position. Based upon his long ball talents, he batted fifth and occasionally fourth. He posted a .337 batting average and was noticed by Cleveland scouts.

The Indians were aging and not doing well. Tribe scouts had been given orders to scour the country for talent. They sent so many young prospects to Cleveland, there were not enough uniforms to go around. Of the 43 players who suited up that season, many saw the field for less than 9 innings as their “look-see.” By those standards, Yoter had an impressive tryout. Manager Tris Speaker penciled him into the lineup at third base on August 28 and left him there until September 13. Twenty players appeared in fewer games that year for the Tribe.

Yoter went hitless in his first start, but did get his first major-league RBI. His first hit came against the White Sox on August 29. In the sixth inning he singled to left and Bibb Falk misplayed the ball. Yoter scampered to third base on the error, only to be called out on appeal for missing second base.5

After five games at home versus Chicago, the team went on the road. Yoter had a .167 average, but Speaker stuck with him. Taking a liking to the pitching staffs in St. Louis and Detroit, Yoter went on a ten-game hitting streak, finally held hitless in a 5-0 loss to the Browns. He played against the A’s on September 13 in Cleveland, then went to the bench. Yoter’s splits were 3-for -20 at home and 14-for-44 on the road. His .905 fielding average and limited range did little to impress Speaker.

The Indians had so many players to evaluate that they formed a barnstorming team at the close of the season. Yoter was the third baseman. The squad went to Wisconsin to play a series of games against a team put together by the Browns’ Ken Williams.6In early December, Yoter and outfielder Sumpter Clarke were sent outright to Double-A Indianapolis as part of a Cleveland plan to acquire pitcher Jess Petty.7

Yoter spent the next three seasons with the Indianapolis Indians. He was managed by Donie Bush the first two seasons, then Bruno Betzel in 1927. Yoter never matched the home run numbers he had in Virginia, but he hit .306, .283, and .310. He also had double digit triples every year. The Indians never took a title, but finished second both years under Bush. The Chicago Cubs took an interest in Yoter and purchased him for $17,000 in August 1927.

Manager Joe McCarthy was trying to keep the Cubs in the race, but infield injuries were mounting. The team was on a road trip when Yoter arrived and he was inserted into the lineup on August 24 in Philadelphia. The next day he had his finest major league game, going 3-for-5 with 3 RBIs in a 13-1 rout. After four games versus the Phils he was hitting .375, then the New York Giants cooled him off. McCarthy had seen enough. Yoter made five brief appearances in September to close out the season.

Yoter joined the Cubs for spring training in 1928 and made the opening day roster. He made a brief appearance in a loss to Cincinnati on April 18,  his last major league game before being sent to the A.A. Minneapolis Millers.

The Millers, managed by Mike Kelley, were a solid mix of veterans and a few youngsters. They contended each season, but never reached the top during Yoter’s years. He took over at third base, but also played 26 games at shortstop in 1928. That September he was involved in a car crash with a truck from meat packers Armour & Co. Injuries were minor, but the incident still led to a court case. It dragged on until February 1930 when Yoter was awarded $8,257 in settlement.8 This news was followed closely by an announcement that Yoter had signed with the Millers for 1929.

Yoter had a reputation for waiting until training camp had opened to sign a contract. He tried to get every dollar he could from management. “He’s not mean or nasty about it. He’s just that way. No matter who Yoter is playing for, he gives everything he has to that team…he’s a hustler and a fighter.”9 He hit .317 in 1929 and made headlines when he went six-for-six in a 20-5 pasting of St. Paul on September 2. Batting lead-off, he scored three times and had five singles and a double. Teammate Frank Emmer had a home run and three doubles to support the cause.

Yoter was invited to spring training with the Washington Senators in 1930, but was returned to the Millers. On June 11 he was part of a deal with Columbus that sent Bernie Neis to the Millers. Yoter played 38 games in Minneapolis and 104 with Columbus. He batted .317 with 30 doubles and 24 stolen bases. His fielding average of .912 was the lowest for any third baseman with 100 games in the league.10

Yoter started the 1931 season with the Red Birds and was their leading hitter midway through the season. On August 4 he was traded along with pitcher Archie Campbell to Indianapolis for pitcher Mike Cvengros and infielder William Narleski. Shortly after the trade he broke his left leg in a collision at first base. He was carried from the field and taken to an Indianapolis hospital. He was hitting .301 at the time of the injury.11

Yoter reported to training camp early in 1932 to get in shape after the leg injury. In late March he was sold to Danville in the III League. Danville was a St. Louis Cardinals franchise and Branch Rickey was a fan of Yoter. He arranged for Elmer to be player/manager. Not at full strength, Yoter played in about half the games for the Danville Veterans, who finished in the second division in the first half standings. Financial woes beset the league and with a 2-7 record in the second half the franchise dropped out. Yoter was 29-37 as a first-year manager. He joined the Houston Buffalos, also a St. Louis farm club, in the Texas League as a player. In 45 games he batted .249.

One of the worst-kept secrets in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in the winter of 1932-1933 was the identity of the replacement for outgoing manager Mike McNally. Finally, on February 15 the Barons management announced Yoter as the new leader of the Class-A club. McNally had produced two New York-Pennsylvania League pennants in three seasons, so expectations were high.

Yoter played third while managing the Barons the next three seasons, but did not garner any pennants. In 1934 he made a hasty evaluation of a player named Nick Tremark. Sent to the Barons by the Brooklyn Dodgers, Tremark was quickly labeled by Yoter as too small and was returned. Tremark was shorter than Yoter at 5-foot-5. He ended up playing 35 games in the majors, one fewer than Yoter. The Tremark case was not the only time Yoter’s quick judgment would backfire.

Al Rosen, future MVP third baseman with the Cleveland Indians, was a seventeen-year old unknown when he was sent by Red Sox scouting chief Herb Pennock to Danville, Virginia, for a tryout. The manager at Danville was Yoter. After three days of working out, Rosen was summoned to Yoter’s office. Yoter told him, “I just talked to Pennock on the phone and told him you’ll never make a ball player. Now I’m telling you the same thing. Go home and forget about baseball.”12 Rosen used the rejection to work even harder at reaching his dream.

Yoter managed Scranton in the NYPL in 1936 and brought home the pennant. Ten years later he repeated the feat with Scranton in the Eastern League. That earned him a promotion to Toronto in the International League where he could only manage an eighth-place finish. He won back-to-back pennants with Marion, Ohio, in the Ohio-Indiana League in 1950-51. He also won a title with Waterloo in the Midwest League in 1959. In between he managed in the Piedmont League, Cotton States League, Canadian-American League, Bi-State League, Carolina and PONY. He guided four of those teams into the playoffs, but did not win a title.

From 1941 through 1964 he was employed by the Boston Red Sox. When he did not manage he served as scout for the Pennsylvania and New York region. In 1953 he was manager of the Roanoke franchise in the Piedmont League that disbanded.  He joined Albany on July 28 and was supposed to hold the managerial job until Jack Burns recovered from an illness. Burns was back at the helm in late August.

Yoter was scheduled to manage Waterloo (Iowa) in 1960, but his wife’s hip and leg trouble necessitated that he stay with her. She was hospitalized and died in September. His final managerial job was with Winston-Salem in 1961. In 1962 he suffered a heart attack, which cut back on his scouting. He died suddenly on July 26, 1966, and is buried in Jefferson Memorial Park in Pittsburgh.

This biography was reviewed by Norman Macht and fact-checked by Rob Wood.

 

Notes

1 The victory total was arrived at using the 1993 edition of The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball and various newspaper sources. Uncertainty about his managerial time with the Albany Senators in 1953 makes a definitive count impossible.

2 These are the numbers that Yoter entered on his Hall of Fame questionnaire.

3 “Richmond Maintains Lead in Club Batting with .292,” Richmond Times Dispatch, May 15. 1921: 11.

4 “ ‘Butch’ Lost Shop,”  Minneapolis Star, March 27, 1929: 14.

5 “Myatt Waits Until Tenth to Get Bingle That Beats White Sox, 5-4,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 30, 1924: 14.

6 Henry P. Edwards, “Tribe Declares Its Season at an End,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 29, 1924: 15.

7 “Release Clark and Yoter to A.A. Club Led by Donie Bush,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, December 4, 1924: 21.

8 “Elmer Yoter Given Verdict of $8,257,” Akron Beacon Journal, February 8, 1930: 15. The case was appealed again, but Yoter came out a winner once more.

9 “Yoter Surprises By Early Acceptance,” Minneapolis Star, February 26, 1930: 27.

10 Spalding Official Baseball Guide, 1931 (New York: American Sports Publishing): 181-184.

11 Albert W. Bloemaker, “Giants to Send Tribe $75,000 Worth of Players for Koenecke,” Indianapolis Star, August 12, 1931: 13.

12 “Rosen Forgets “Forget It” Advice, Stars for Tribe,” The Mercury (Pottstown, Pennsylvania,) June 17, 1950: 10.